News / Asia

China Debates Constitutional Government

China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 6, 2013.
China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 6, 2013.
VOA News
More than 30 years since the last draft of its Constitution, a debate is brewing in China about constitutional government and whether it could work in this country, where the Communist Party single-handedly rules.
 
The debate over constitutional government has long been code for political reform and is a topic that, until now, was discussed more by liberals and academics. But, remarks late last year by China’s new leader Xi Jinping in support of the rule of law has rekindled the debate and raised expectations.
 
And when conservatives launched a counter-attack, saying that constitutionalism was a western conspiracy and not important, the debate got even hotter. On China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog, the issue became a trending topic and garnered millions of comments.
 
China’s middle class is growing and economic reforms have raised the quality of living. Chinese have more freedoms today than ever before. But still, officials are perceived as being above the law. Rising corruption, abuse of power and the loose implementation of this law are undermining the Communist Party’s legitimacy.  
 
"The question is whether this is rule of law or the rule of man," said historian Zhou Duo.
 
Constitution or party first

 
Shortly after taking over late last year as secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping said any country ruled by law should first be ruled by the Constitution.
 
“No organization or individual has the special right to overstep the Constitution and law, and any violation of the Constitution and law must be investigated," Xi said, speaking at a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of the implementation of China’s 1982 Constitution in Beijing.
 
Despite those words, Li Datong, a former journalist and political commentator said the gap between the law and how it is implemented in China is still very large.
 
“Can the Supreme Court put the Party Secretary on trial? Of course it cannot. Can the Court at any level put the Party on trial? Of course it cannot. If a citizen wanted to sue Party officials, no court would listen to him," Li said.
 
Western conspiracy
 
Conservatives say there is no need for change.

In one of the recent articles that helped spur the debate, the Communist Party journal Red Flag Manuscript argued that constitutionalism should never be implemented in China.
 
“Constitutionalism belongs to capitalism and capitalist dictatorship, not to social democratic system,” the article said.
 
The Global Times added that the resurgence of demand for constitutionalism is, in fact, a plot to overthrow the current Chinese political system.
 
All talk, no action

 
Despite the president’s remarks, China’s new leaders have to take steps to promote new reforms.
 
Magazine editor/publisher Li Datong doubts they will.
 
“The Party never thought it could be surpassed by the Constitution, that’s why it adopted a Constitution to fool the people and intellectuals,” he said.
 
Even though Article 35 of the 1982 Constitution states that “citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration” the party ultimately decides what can be said and when gatherings can take place.
 
Li knows this from personal experience. In 2006, the magazine he published as an editor, Freezing Point, was shut down because it ran a series of articles on controversial topics such as demolitions and corruption.
 
At the time, Li Datong took his case to the courts to appeal the decision.
 
“When I sued them I knew it wouldn’t work but I needed to let people know what was going on, to record history,” he explained.
 
Production of history

The 1982 Constitution was penned under the leadership of reformist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang. And while it mentions in its preamble that China will adhere to people’s democratic dictatorship and follow the socialist road under the leadership of the CCP,  it does provide guarantees for basic rights.
 
Its Article 5 states that no organization or individual enjoys the privilege of being above the law, and Article 41 states that citizens have the right to criticize any state organ or official.
 
The 1982 Constitution is a product of history and was written at a time when China was transitioning out of Maoism and the total absence of law, said Chinese historian Zhang Lifang.
 
“The generation of leaders of Hu Yaobang started reflecting about the importance of the rule of law, because they’d also been the victims of rule of man and were still in agony. They’d all experienced the lack of Constitution and human rights during the Cultural Revolution.”

"Rule of Law" or "Rule by Law"
 
But while the architects of the 1982 constitution saw the importance of a legal system, the document was more about establishing ‘rule by law’ rather than ‘rule of law.”
 
“Marxism and Leninism is still the guiding ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, of course if we rule the country through class struggle, armed revolution, proletarian dictatorship obviously we have chaos,” said Chinese historian Zhou Duo.
 
Marxism doesn’t consider at all the rule of law, human rights or constitution; it fiercely denies these principles, he said.
 
“This is China’s biggest problem; this is the reason why we have severe violations of people’s rights, why we cannot implement political reforms and why China’s reform process meets so many obstacles,” Zhou said.
 
Tiananmen dead end

The debate has peaked as China marks 24 years since the Communist Party’s bloody crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. As the anniversary approaches, some are reflecting on the leadership that initiated the process of reforms and looking to President Xi Jinping to embrace that vision once again.
 
But change will not come easy. The stalemate that China is in now began in the late 1980s with the Party’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen.
 
“What happened at the end of the 80s, and after the death of Hu Yaobang, changed everything. The party realized that in order to keep ruling they had to secure their right to power with an iron fist,” said Zhang Lifan.

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Frank from: O. County, USA
June 04, 2013 7:39 AM
Constitution of the communsts, by the communists, and for the communists? Isn't CPR's constituton dictatorship? CPR' leaders are well aware of that they have to eventually open China to the external world in order to survive.


by: henry from: CA
June 03, 2013 10:07 PM
before political reform, people must know what is constitutionalism.
it is hard to change thought of people. but constitutionalism is a necessary tendency if one country wants to continue to move forward. there should be no previlige in a developed country.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid